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Despite dangerous fire season, target shooting not likely to be banned


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SALT LAKE CITY — Notably absent from that list of fire restrictions imposed by the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands Tuesday is any prohibition of target shooting.

At least 10 wildfires this year have been caused by gunfire, but authorities are not cracking down on it. That's mainly because the Utah Legislature passed a law in 2008 protecting the rights of gun owners.

A wildfire in Centerville Monday, along with nine earlier fires on the west side of Utah Lake, near Saratoga Springs, were all started as a result of people target shooting.

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“Usually shooting guns isn’t a problem, until you get all of the factors that we have with the low humidity, the wind and no moisture in the fine fuels,” Halladay said. “It’s very easy, you hit a rock and a spark and you have a fire. People just need to use common sense.”

The number of fires caused by guns has some organizations discussing the possibility of restricting gun use in some areas, but Dick Buehler, the director of the Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, said it isn’t likely.

“There actually is a state law that, and very rightfully so, that protects people's rights to possess and utilize guns legally,” Buehler said. “We do not have, as a state agency, nor do the counties, the ability to restrict shooting.”

Still, Utah County Commission Chairman Larry Ellertson says something has to be done about the fires.

The County Commission is already in the process of creating one gun range on the southern end of Utah Lake, near Payson, Ellertson said Tuesday. New discussions are also under way for another range on the northern end of the lake near Saratoga Springs.

This is happening for two reasons: new construction near areas where target shooters are common, and because nine wildfires have started this year because of gunfire in Utah County alone.

It's possible gunfire would be restricted to these gun ranges during times when the threat of fire is high.

"We don't delight in doing it, but when it's something, when you look at the overall health and well being of the citizens, it's something. Sometimes it's the responsible thing to do," Ellertson said.

Teresa Rigby, fire prevention specialist with the Bureau of Land Management, told KSL News last month that fires caused by firearms have become more widespread the past 10 years.

“It’s not always on people's minds because it hasn’t always been as prevalent as it is,” Rigby said. “There are a lot of places in the desert that are popular for target shooting that are hotbeds for wildfire.”

Buehler and Halladay said that Utah’s wildfires so far have been relatively mild, but there is potential for much larger fires like those currently burning in Colorado and New Mexico.

“We have been very fortunate in the state of Utah, not so in New Mexico and Colorado and California, where we haven’t burned multiple buildings up in a wild land fire, Halladay said.

“Sooner or later we’re going to get one going that will go through one of the summer cabins and we’ll have multiple loss of buildings; it’s just inevitable, sooner or later its going to happen.”

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John Hollenhorst
    Andrew Wittenberg

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